Busy shopping weekend begins for those looking for last-minute gifts

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Local malls are swarmed this time of year as families stock up on gifts for family members.

That includes Parkway Place Mall where there are 2,800 parking spaces, and nearly every one is expected to be filled this weekend according to Molly Mitchell, Marketing Director.

"This weekend will be the busiest shopping weekend of the year for us," Mitchell said, noting that the pinnacle of the shopping experience that kicks off on Black Friday wraps up the last week before Christmas.

Mary Morgan Estopinal said she was hunting for a last-minute gift Friday.

"I have a lot of dirty Santa [parties] that I have to get gifts for," she explained. "It's for tomorrow! I just-- exams and everything really overwhelmed me and I forgot!"

We found Estopinal in the Mary Kathryn Design pop-up shop at Parkway Place Mall.

"I just wanted to come in and see what they have," she said.

It's helping customers like Estopinal that has Mary Kathryn Martinson, who owns the shop, excited each Christmas. For retailers like her, the Christmas season is a gift all its own.

"I'll make a majority of my sales within the next two weeks," she said. "It's a really exciting time... I'm expecting to grow my business, pick up some new shoppers throughout the mall, and have fun before Christmas."

Martinson is a local jewelry designer. Her store includes jewelry, but expanded into home goods and gift items for the Christmas season.

Shoppers like Vernon McCants don't mind the crowds.

"It's busy! I'm seeing everybody walking around with smiles," he shared. "I'm thanking God for the opportunity to be able to get some things for my family and my children. It's an outstanding feeling."

With peak shopping season in full swing, Mitchell said the mall keeps safety in mind.

"We have off-duty officers here from Huntsville Police Department, we have a very close relationship with them and we are thankful for it," she stated. "We also have our own security here."

Starting Black Friday, HPD's "Operation Safe Shop" has been placing officers in the major shopping areas all over town, like Parkway Place Mall, for several hours each day according to Lt. Stacy Bates of HPD.

Bates said it’s an overtime detail where the officers are solely patrolling the businesses and not out answering calls.

HPD also works to keep Huntsvillians and drivers safe on the roads once they leave the shopping areas around the city. The DUI Task Force conducts multiple traffic safety checkpoints throughout the holiday season with the goal of doing one per week during December.

"There's a lot more drivers, there's a lot of drinking going on obviously. People are being in a festive mood and enjoying their family and sometimes things get out of hand. So we are out there to make sure everybody's safe to drive," explained Sgt. Kevin Matthews. "Plus-- it's a safety checkpoint we don't just check for DUI drivers. We check for equipment violations, driving while suspended."